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More sad farewells to beloved bears

After all the excitement of the Roadshow, reality awaited on return to Hong Kong in terms of the highs and lows of caring for over 230 bears in China and Vietnam. Two calls in quick succession from a clearly devastated vet Jen, in Chengdu, saw us sharing tears for two of our beautiful bears, so much loved............ and now gone.

Angel RIP
Early on Sunday morning Angel was found dead in her den by our bear team as they arrived to feed and clean. A postmortem saw Jen's conclusion that her aorta (the main blood vessel carrying oxygenated blood from the left side of the heart to the body) had ruptured causing a rapid, fatal loss of blood - with the only consolation being that her end would have come very quickly indeed.

Beautiful Angel arrived with us in May 2006, aged about 9 years old, after we received an unexpected call from the Forestry Department in Chengdu who asked us to rescue seven bears from a zoo, which had suddenly closed down owing to a lack of funds. Knowing the market value of these bears, we knew that they would be sent to a bear farm if we didn’t agree to take them in - and so we welcomed another group of traumatised bears into the Animals Asia family.

What shocked us all was the realisation that three of the bears had actually originated from a farm! Angel still had the ugly metal catheter jutting out from her painfully infected abdomen, which had been there since 1998, while two others were clearly free-drip victims of bile extraction. I can't imagine what visitors must have thought as they saw these bears clearly suffering on display at the zoo!

Angel also had a snare wound around her right hind leg (evidence of wild capture) and an 18-month old cub who huffed and lashed out in fear.

Over the course of the next few weeks, Angel had her surgery and recovered well, before she was integrated successfully into a nice stable group of bears. Her cub – now named Peanut – was cared for in a den until he was big enough to be integrated into a larger group of bears where, for the past three years or so he has enjoyed life in House 6 together with Prince, Freedom, Douglas and the long-standing bears who have always been particularly welcoming of new youngsters in their midst.

And so, for over four years, Angel has led a carefree life with her friends in House 10; playing, swimming, wrestling, and deciding for herself how to spend her days.

Somerset RIP

Just two days later - another call I so didn't want to hear.

Somerset arrived in March 2003 after being confiscated from someone trying to hide him on a bus! The authorities acted quickly after receiving the call from a concerned passenger on the bus and immediately confiscated him into our care.

A small 29 kg cub less than six months of age, Somerset – or Cublet as he was also named – had his front right paw missing as a result of being snared in the wild and was clearly destined for a farm. Already at that young age, Somerset had worn teeth as a result of stressed bar biting in his cage, and was terrified and aggressive, and clearly missing his mum. Easily identified from the start and into his adult life by a gorgeous white snip of fur on his nose, shaped like a triangle, Somerset quickly recovered and became one of our infamous "delinquent" juvenile bears.

Over the past two weeks he has "starred" in my roadshow presentations in Australia and New Zealand in his leading role of tree party activist where audiences have loved to see his exploits: climbing – and destroying – trees in the enclosures and teaching his friends how to do the same.

Despite the grief of losing this very special bear, the words "tree party" will always remind me of Somerset and how much he made us laugh. Our hearts go out to Lee Gibbins and all in the Moon Bear Rescue West Somerset support group in the UK who adored him too and raised so many funds to keep him happily in tree parties during his life in our care.

The cause of Somerset's death is still largely unknown and Jen and our vet team are waiting for more results to come back from the lab. The cycle of his illness began with our team noticing he had a small swelling on the left hand side of his muzzle and was observed to be behaving a little out of sorts.

Taken in for a health check, he was given a dental as it was noted that a couple of his teeth were rotten and needed to be removed. His recovery from the anaesthetic was difficult and our vet team observed in the days ahead that he was also in great pain. Despite medicating him throughout the next few nights, his condition continued to deteriorate until the decision was made to take him for a CT scan to see whether he may be suffering with a nasal tumour, as we have had several bears fall victim to this dreaded disease.

The procedure went smoothly, but Somerset again went into difficulty on the recovery, and despite Jen and team performing several attempts at resuscitation, Somerset suddenly died.

The postmortem revealed that his death was a blessed release. His poor body was ravaged with masses, which are either enlarged and infected lymph nodes or cancerous growths - or both! But until the histopathology results come through, we cannot confirm which. All we know is that our beautiful Somerset spiraled from a healthy, fun-loving and very mischievous bear into another victim of the brutal bear farming industry in a matter of days.

Our team, as ever, extended their professionalism and tender loving care with calmness and tirelessness befitting their years of experience in helping these bears. No words for how hard they worked and how they put their own devastation behind as, once again, they simply got on with the job. Thank you all for working through another emotional time with the exceptional love and care the bears receive and deserve.

In the midst of my own anger and bitter frustration I'm reminded of the words of our recent visitors – a group of kind Buddhist monks – who said calmly and without any fear of contradiction, that the perpetrators of such misery and degradation would, simply, rot in hell.

Our commiserations especially to Angel and Somerset's sponsors – Denise and her team in Luxembourg, and Lee Gibbins and her team in the UK – with our heartfelt thanks, as ever, for being everything these bears needed during their lives of freedom and peace. 

Annie Ditton, our kind volunteer, took these beautiful pictures of Somerset on Christmas Day, believing that he was yawning before sleeping off his Christmas treats. 

And the last word to Lee on behalf of West Somerset – who so lovingly and enthusiastically work so hard year after year, to support Somerset and his friends.

“This is how I always think of Somerset, it must have been the start of his tree climbing career or maybe just gave him the determination to “do it better”. The big consolation is that he was able to develop his personality and capacity for life and fun at Chengdu where he was so dearly loved. He could so easily have not been rescued when he was being taken to a bear farm – unbearable even to think about. We'll miss hearing about him, especially his cheeky tree party exploits.”

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